Born: December 12, 1941;

Died: December 16, 2020.

BRIGADIER Charles Ritchie, who has died aged 79, had a distinguished military career serving with the Royal Scots. His was a life crammed with incident. He was even credited with being involved in one of the last duels to be fought in the UK.

While at Sandhurst he and a fellow cadet had arranged to take two young women to a swish black-tie dance. When his friend’s date cancelled, he took Ritchie’s date instead by telling her he was the man told the other girl that Ritchie was unable to attend, and took her to the party himself. That left Richie in full mufti, waiting.

At length, the friend returned from the party and immediately confessed to his wrongdoing. Ritchie, furious, challenged him to a duel. “Firearms, at dawn, with seconds in attendance,” he declared.

It was decided that each man would take alternate shots, starting at a distance of 75 yards, stepping one yard forward after each shot until blood was drawn. Eventually the friend charged and shot, drawing blood from Ritchie’s arm. The friend claimed victory but was disqualified for “ungentlemanly behaviour”.

The incident was characteristic of Ritchie, a proud and upright man who throughout his career courted many dangerous events. His close shaves ranged from his service in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, being arrested by the Soviets in Berlin as a spy, swimming in the sea alongside venomous sea-snakes in East Timor, and a helicopter crash on Salisbury Plain.

Such derring-do exploits ensured that he him gained a legendary reputation in the Royal Scots. Through all this, he never lost his ability to remain calm under extreme pressure and maintain a sense of humour. He was an exceptional raconteur and, significantly, his posthumously published memoirs were entitled, Laughter is the Best Weapon. A former colleague has commented: “Charles never lost his ability to talk straight to all ranks. He had an excellent sense of humour – vital in so many of his postings.”

Ritchie’s diplomacy was much required when, during his time as military attaché at the Paris embassy, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash. He waived aside protocol and draped the coffin in the Royal Standard, not the Union Flag. Years later he remarked years later: “An official communication arrived to the ambassador informing him to thank me for the unconventional decision I had taken”.

Charles David Maciver Ritchie was born in Inverness into a military family. His father, Lt Colonel Bill Ritchie, had served in the Royal Scots. He attended Durlston Court prep school – where the comedian Tony Hancock had been a n ex-pupil and attended the school’s annual plays – and then Wellington College.

In 1962 he passed out at Sandhurst and was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots to serve in Libya, where he inadvertently ate some grapes that a farmer had sprayed with poisonous fertiliser and was lucky to survive.

Ritchie served throughout the world in a variety of capacities. In 1978 he was Operations Officer with the British commanders-in-chief mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany, where he was involved in monitoring the activities of the Stasi in East Berlin.

One occasion was particularly memorable – and dangerous. Ritchie was captured after spending a night in a ditch taking surreptitious photos of Soviet Russian military equipment and was subsequently expelled from East Germany. In his autobiography he wrote: “I convinced the Soviets that I was a harmless character covertly spying for my country.”

In 1972 Ritchie, as brigadier in the Royal Scots, partnered Princess Anne, the regiment’s colonel-in-chief, for the opening reel at the Royal Caledonian Ball in London. Other appointments included command of the 3rd Battalion the Ulster Defence Regiment in Northern Ireland. It was a challenging posting and required deft military and political skills. He was appointed brigadier in 1988 and held further posts with representative at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the Nato command centre in Belgium, and chief-of-staff to the UN Protection Force in Yugoslavia.

Ritchie was an ardent supporter of many Royal Scots events – notably at the Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh – and was a proud upholder of the military and its traditions. He was colonel of his regiment from 1990 to 1995, an aide-de-camp to the Queen and a member of the Royal Company of Archers.

After retiring he served as an innovative secretary of Edinburgh’s New Club and as an energetic director of the Edinburgh Tattoo. As a farewell gesture in 2008 he was asked to nominate a favourite item. With typical enthusiasm he asked that the West Linton and District Pipe Band, of which he was president, open the Tattoo on one night. He was also chairman of The Soldiers’ Charity.

Michael Denny was chairman of the New Club in 2000 and was on the interview panel that appointed Ritchie. He told The Herald: “Charles, at the interview, spoke with passion and great humour – recounting numerous tales of his military prowess. He had us in stitches of laughter, and he got the job. Charles really got stuck into the job and became much loved by the staff and members alike.”

He remained a courteous and popular member of the military community in Scotland. He himself said he had led “a charmed and lucky career on life’s stage.”

Ritchie is survived by his wife Araminta, whom he married in 1984, and their son, Paul.